The question every patient should ask their doctor

Imagine you are a patient in hospital. The doctor draws back the bed sheet to examine your abdomen. Before you are touched, you say, “Excuse me doctor, have you washed your hands?”

Would you dare? Would you be too embarrassed, awkward or even afraid to ask? Would you worry that it would be rude to ask, or that it could undermine the doctor’s authority? Would you risk upsetting the person taking care of you if it led to your doctor taking offence? Or you might think it’s just not your role to ask this type of question.

Kim Oates, Emeritus Professor at Sydney University and a clinical advisor to the Clinical Excellence Commission, says patients need to know it is okay to ask this question. Hospitals can be dangerous places. Sometimes things go wrong and patients suffer. By 2015, nurses in hospitals complied with guidelines on hand-washing regimes 86% of the time. Nurses have the best compliance rates of all heatlh professionals. The rate for doctors in 2015 was 71%, unless you happen to be one of the 29% of patients treated with unwashed hands and you pick up an infection as a result.

Prof Oates says that patients need to be encouraged to ask and health professionals need to become more comfortable with patients who ask the question. If the aim of healthcare is to improve the health of the patient, rather than make it worse, it’s pretty obvious.

You can read Prof Oates’ full article on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Prof Oates, a former practising paediatrician, is the author of numerous books including 20 Tips for Parents.